Military Aviation

As the KF-21 Boramae awaits its maiden flight, its AESA Radar Performs well during airborne testings

2022 will be the most crucial year for KF-21 Boramae (Hawk) as it is scheduled to conduct its first flight.

2022 will be the most crucial year for KF-21 Boramae (Hawk) as it is scheduled to conduct its first flight.

As the photos in this post show, since the roll-out the first prototype aircraft last year, several KF-21 prototypes have been undergoing various ground tests.

Lockheed Martin is an official partner of the KF-X program. When the Republic of Korea Air Force acquired 40 F-35A jet fighters from LM, one of the major clause in the contract included technology transfers, four of which were categorized as “core technology” necessary for KF-21’s development.

The four “core technology” were: Active Electronically-Scanned (AESA) Radar, Radio Frequency (RF) Jammer, Electro-Optical Targeting Pod (EO-TGP), and Infrared Search and Track (IRST).

However, the US Congress deemed them to be too sensitive, and the technology transfer did not push through. This put the KF-X program in danger, and many in South Korea doubted the feasibility of the program without these technology.

After an in-depth feasibility study, however, the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) concluded that these technology could be developed indigenously. This feasibility study put the KF-X program back on track and it arrived where it is today.

The AESA radar development is without a doubt the most high-profile development program out of the four, and by all accounts, it is said to be going smoothly. According to Republic of Korea Armed Forces’ Facebook page, prototype radar has undergone numerous airborne testings and is said to have performed well. Development of other systems are also said to be going well through indigenous R&D or through cooperation with international partners.

Because these “core technology” are considered extremely sensitive and are intellectual properties of South Korea, any exported systems will be maintained by South Korean engineers. For example, KF-21 exported to Indonesia will have to be overseen by South Korean engineers when radars and other sensitive subsystems need to be maintained.

This is not unique to the KF-21. Most, if not all, major defense manufacturers impose similar requirements to safeguard sensitive technology. Users of the F-15E and F-35 variants cannot freely maintain their aircraft without Boeing or Lockheed Martin engineers, for example.

As already reported, the KF-21 Boramae supersonic stealth jet fighter was unveiled on Apr. 9, 2021.

According to KAI, the aircraft is designed to be able to fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.81, with its flying range reaching 2,900 kilometers.

Featuring dimension of 16.9m x 4.7m x 11.2m, KF-X is larger than F-16 and is of similar size as F-18. Development of KF-21 began in earnest on January 2016 and the assembly process began in 2019 after Critical Design Review (CDR) was completed in 2018. The KF-21 is expected to replace Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) F-4 and F-5 (and eventually even F-15K and KF-16) fighters and will operate alongside the more advanced F-35A in ROKAF inventory.

The KF-21 is a joint project between South Korea and Indonesia in which Seoul holds 80% of shares while Jakarta seeks 20%.

Photo credit: Republic of Korea Armed Forces

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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